Greener & Safer Candles 101

If you like burning candles around your home, you should know that candles vary a lot (green-wise) depending on their wax content and packaging. Here’s the scoop…

Paraffin Candles

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Most candles you see at the store are made with good old paraffin, although often these are simply called “wax candles.” Paraffin is naturally odorless, inexpensive and molds well, making it ideal for candles. However, one major downside is that paraffin is made with non-renewable petroleum. Plus, back in 2009, the American Chemical Society released a study noting that paraffin candles release are a common source of harmful indoor pollution. Paraffin candles can release human carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as toluene and benzene. In poorly ventilated areas such as the bathroom or a small bedroom these candles do the most damage.

The American Lung Association and the EPA have also voiced concerns about paraffin candles and some older studies show that many paraffin candles are made with lead-emitting wicks. Soot released while burning paraffin candles is a danger akin to the emissions released by diesel-burning vehicles. This icky soot can cause respiratory problems and is known to aggravate the conditions of those who already have asthma, lung, or heart problems. Paraffin candle makers often use chemical scents and colors to spice up their candles. Chemical scents in conventional paraffin candles can even release harmful phthalates.

Overall, paraffin candles are a horrible choice for green families.

Beeswax candles

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100% Pure Beeswax Candles from Bennett's Honey Farm

Beeswax is an age-old candle making choice, it’s also far greener than typical wax. Plus, as a bonus, beeswax candles burn longer than any other candle wax. Another upside is that beeswax candles usually have cotton wicks (no lead) and very rarely have added scents which may trigger allergies. If someone in your home can’t handle scents or soot, beeswax is a great choice.

A downside is cost. It take time and a lot of labor to extract beeswax from beehives and then make these candles. Another problem of beeswax is that some beeswax candle makers mix wax, meaning you could be buying a beeswax-paraffin mixed candle. Be sure you purchase 100% beeswax candles from a reputable company.

Overall, beeswax candles are likely the best choice for green families and have many pros and few cons. However, costs can be prohibitive. 

Soy Candles

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Evergreen Candleworks Lantern Candles

I like organic soy candles, but they’re not perfect. On the plus side, soy candles are made from a rapidly renewable resource (soy beans of course) and they’re biodegradable. Plus, because soy wax, once burned, softens nicely, you can easily remove 100% of the wax from a candle holder, meaning you can reuse soy candle jars over and over. Lastly, overall, soy candles tend to have lead-free wicks and emit less soot and burn cleaner than paraffin candles.

As for the downsides, conventionally grown soy is a big problem. Soybeans, along with corn and winter wheat are the most heavily synthetically fertilized crops in the country and these same three conventional crops also get sprayed with more pesticides than any other crops in the U.S. My point – you have to go organic when it comes to soy candles, which in turn, means you’ll be paying a lot for a simple soy candle.

Additionally, while soy candles are noted as being cleaner burning than typical wax candles, there’s not much research showing that soy candles are actually better for your health. Soy candles still release smoke that can aggravate allergy or asthma symptoms. Lastly note that some soy candle companies add synthetic fragrances and colors to their candles, just like paraffin candle companies.

Overall, organic, naturally colored, naturally scented soy candles are better than paraffin by a long shot, but cost and the fact that they can still trigger health problems is something to consider. 

LED Candles

LEDs give off zero heat, flame or smoke making them the safest candle in town if you’ve got small children. LED candles also last a long time nowadays, use very little energy and many have rechargeable batteries. The downside of LED candles is that many are made with plastic or wax coatings (i.e. non-renewable materials) some don’t look very realistic and I get the feeling many are tossed away, thus adding to landfill issues. If you’re interested in this option though, you can visit Little Bright Lights.

Green candle buying and usage tips:

  • Buy 100% beeswax and organic soy candles over paraffin candles. In fact, even non-organic soy candles are better than paraffin.
  • Make sure that any scented candles you buy are made with natural scents, not toxic fragrances. Many candle companies add icky hidden ingredients to their candles including stuff like chemical scent enhancer and other additives used to enhance color and to add shine to the candle. Often, these ingredients aren’t listed on the candle packaging. Make sure you read up on companies at their website to see what really goes into their candles. This step can’t protect you perfectly (what – companies lie!?) but it’ll help.
  • Look for candles with unbleached cotton or hemp wicks.
  • In the past, paraffin candles did have lead-emitting wicks. Nowadays candles shouldn’t have lead wicks due to current laws. That said, if you buy older candles, say at garage sales or a thrift store, you may run into a bad wick. CPSC notes that to check a candle for a lead wick, look at the top of the wick. If there is metal, you will see it in the center of the wick. These are candles you shouldn’t burn.
  • No matter which kind of candle you buy, always trim wicks to 1¼4 inch before burning to help reduce soot and smoke.
  • Don’t burn candles near a draft which blows smoke around more than necessary, not to mention it’s a fire hazard.
  • Buy candles without excess packaging and look for candles free from jars and containers, unless you plan to reuse the container.
  • Look for greener candle companies, such as companies who use recycled packaging and other eco-practices.

Good places to find less expensive, greener candles…

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Lavender and Vanilla Soy Candle

  • Go local. Visit your farmers’ market, local art fairs and smaller local shops to find handmade candles that may cost less than greener store bought candles.

Companies that sell greener candles

  • Way Out Wax – 100% GMO-free soy wax and some with organic essential oils.
  • Francis Ellis Candles – uses 100% biodegradable soy wax, eco-friendly wicks, recycled packaging and offers Certified Organic/ Fair for Life essential oil options.
  • WoodSprite Organic Body – I don’t think they use organic soy but they do use essential oils and no added dyes.
  • Natura Soylights – don’t use organic soy, but do offer natural oil scents and other green features.
  • BsaB Candles – no organic soy, but they do offer soy, beeswax and bamboo candles along with recycled plant-based packaging, refillable candle holders and there are lots of other green practices at this company.

Lead image by pdsimao via sxc.

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Comments

  1. says

    Wow, I can’t believe there’s so much I don’t know about candles! Just yesterday, I was burning a candle while I tidied my bedroom, to make sure the smell of dirty laundry didn’t hang around once the washing was done. I’ve only now checked the label, and while it advertises a lead-free wick, this post has given me a lot to think about for the next time I feel the need to spring-clean.

  2. Jennifer Chait says

    I know right? Candles are tricky business and the candle industry association is big time into pushing that all candles are safe; a little misleading in my opinion. The only problem about learning more is it sucks because I love burning them, and eco-candles can be soooooo expensive. Thanks for reading and for your comment :)

  3. BL says

    So what about candles made from natural sources like lard, coconut oil, tallow, etc. Has there been and research on those and what they emit when burned?

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